A Sales Negotiator’s Guide To Dealing With A Deadlock

by drjim on February 10, 2009

A Deadlock During A Negotiation Can Bring Things To A Screeching Halt

A Deadlock During A Negotiation Can Bring Things To A Screeching Halt

When driving a car, the #1 thing that most of us fear is hitting a wall. Or another car. Or pretty much anything that would cause us to come to a complete stop quickly. Why are we so afraid of this? Well duh – it will damage / destroy the car that we’re in, delay or prevent us from getting to where we want to go, and may even result in damage to us. The same thing can happen during a negotiation, but we call it a deadlock.

A deadlock occurs when both sides have not yet reached an agreement and all of a sudden they reach an issue that they fundamentally cannot agree on. If negotiating was a board game, then there would be no possible moves for either side to take – deadlock.

If you are a negative person you might be willing to give up and walk away. Lots of people do. A deadlock is a powerful thing and it can affect both sides of the the negotiating table in the following ways:

  • A deadlock tests the resolve and the strength of both sides.
  • A deadlock often forces both sides to be willing to give more concessions after it occurs.
  • A deadlock is a signal to both sides of the table that what they want out of the negotiation might not be possible.
  • A deadlock can cause both sides to reduce what they expect to get out of the negotiations.
  • A deadlock can mess up schedules for both sides.
  • A deadlock can make a negotiation more expensive and riskier for both sides.

So this all seems like it’s pretty serious stuff. However, there’s more.

Both sides of a negotiation realize going in that a deadlock can occur. The key thing that you as a negotiator need to determine is which side fears a deadlock more. Generally speaking, the larger an organization is and the more layers that it has in its management structure, the less able it is to deal with a deadlock. If you are willing to risk not walking away with a deal, then your negotiating power may be greater than the other side’s.

No matter how much power you think that you have, what every negotiator needs to realize is that when a deadlock occurs during a negotiation, it’s the negotiators responsibility to find a way to resolve it. A deadlock can have a significant impact on a negotiator’s career in the following ways:

  • You may get criticized by your own management.
  • You may end up getting extra work in order to resolve this deadlock.
  • You may lose your job.
  • You may have a personal sense of failure.
  • You may become frustrated.
  • You may lose friends and damage relationships.
  • You may make people angry with you.
  • You may lose self-confidence.
  • You may start to question your own business judgment.

So there is a lot of personal risk going on here. What’s a negotiator to do? One key action that you can take occurs before the negotiations start. Every negotiation is really a team event – it’s not just you sitting on your side of the table, it’s really you, your team,  and your management structure. If you take the time to discuss the possibility of deadlocks, what might cause them, where in the negotiations they might occur, and how best to deal with them then you’ll avoid a lot of the consternation that a deadlock can cause your team.

One final point – don’t give up just because you encounter a deadlock. In fact, the longer that the negotiations have gone on before the deadlock was encountered, the better your chances of being able to restart the discussions are. The more effort that has gone into the negotiations will mean that neither side wants to let a deadlock stop progress from being made…

Have you ever encountered a deadlock during a negotiation? Did this cause the negotiations to stop? What did you do to try to restart the negotiations? Were you successful? Leave me a comment and let me know what you are thinking.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

On the Money February 14, 2009 at 3:39 pm

Great post full of good advice. Remaining positive pays dividends in all professional circumstances – after all, one never knows if the other person is just having a bad day. Thanks for the post.

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Dr. Jim Anderson February 14, 2009 at 4:13 pm

Russell: you said it even better that I did – it’s all about your attitude. What’s that saying “It’s not over until the fat lady sings.” Works in opera, works in real life too…!

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